Recycling pioneer for 35 years

Sustainability

Recycling pioneer for 35 years
| Petra Rehmet

Schoeller Allibert has since long trusted in the recycling of plastic - and the machines from KraussMaffei

In bottles, films, or car components: plastics are recycled in all forms, and in recent years the importance of the circular economy has increased immensely. The Dutch company Schoeller Allibert, a specialist for returnable logistics packaging, has long been committed to this issue. It has been using recycled materials since the 1980s – and is now benefitting from its head start in knowledge.

Everyone has seen them: the green fruit crates in the supermarket. But hardly anybody knows that they are part of a well-planned circulation concept known as Ifco. The world's largest (as it claims) provider of returnable packaging systems delivers the foldable crates to food producers, from where they go to retailers, are again picked up, cleaned and disinfected, and the cycle starts again. The crates are intended to last in robust everyday use – which is where Schoeller Allibert comes into play, where for over 62 years premium-quality returnable transport packaging for the most diverse sectors have been produced.

A valuable contribution to resource conservation:
A valuable contribution to resource conservation:
The products from Schoeller Allibert are extremely durable and designed for robustness.

In this connection, sustainability is a central motive, which means that damaged boxes and pallets are reused as secondary raw material. Already today, the articles contain on average 25% recycled material, which is planned to rise to 40% in the future. By 2050, the company from Hoofddorp (near Amsterdam), with its 12 manufacturing sites and 21 sales offices around the world, wants to be completely climate neutral. "We will thus make a significant contribution to the decarbonization of our sector and are proud to be pioneers in the protection of the earth."

"We will thus make a significant contribution to the decarbonization of our sector and are proud to be pioneers in the protection of the earth."
Ludo Gielen, CEO Schoeller Allibert

To ensure that the vegetable crates, industrial boxes, and beer crates are produced in a way that is as much environmentally friendly as possible, machines are needed with low energy consumption and long service life. Here, KraussMaffei has been involved for around 30 years, and the two companies have become so well attuned to each other that for the team of Key Account Manager Thomas Strecker it is sufficient to simply say, without further specification: "We need a machine for boxes for this application." Schoeller Allibert, appreciates the "intimate cooperation at eye level", as Johan Kooistra, Executive Director Operations, puts it. The reasons for this are above all the outstanding technologies, the high availability, and the quick and reliable service on location.

A well-coordinated team:
A well-coordinated team:
Johan Kooistra (Executive Director Operations Schoeller Allibert), Thomas Strecker (Key Account Manager KraussMaffei) and Ludo Gielen (CEO Schoeller Allibert) continuously optimize the production (from left)

In particular, the GX and MX series are predestined for major logistics and packaging solutions, because they combine economic efficiency and sustainability. They process up to 100% recycled material and, thanks to the BluePower technology, they offer low energy consumption levels and fast cycle times. Thanks to excellent shot weight consistency, the scrap is also reduced.  

Returnable containers with long service life

Practically designed returnable containers made from plastic help to protect perishable goods. Fruit, for example, has approximately 50% fewer pressure points when it is transported in this way, which result in less food waste. But also in the automotive sector, the previously used Gitterboxes have now almost completely been replaced by FLC’s (foldable large containers) made from plastic. As these boxes have an ergonomic drop door in a sidewall, for the fitter it is much easier to take out parts as the box empties, instead of having to bend deep down into the previous, usually rigid metal boxes.

For Ludo Gielen,
For Ludo Gielen,
CEO of Schoeller Allibert, environmental protection is a matter of the heart

Furthermore, after use, modern containers can be folded from 80 centimetres in height and reduced to only 29 centimetres, which makes stacking easier and optimizes a truckload. A standard truck can be filled with up to 66 full Magnum Optimum® 1208 containers in comparison to 64 Gitterboxes. While Schoeller Allibert aims to make transport as efficient as possible with a clear focus on decarbonizing and lowering the general carbon footprint we made our solution foldable when empty. When folded the number of containers rises to 297 folded empty Magnum Optimum® 1208 containers, while the Gitterboxes stay at 64.

What is often underestimated is the long service life of these logistics articles. Drinks crates from Schoeller Allibert are designed for a service life of over 10 years, even though they are not handled with great care, and are often stored outside and exposed to rain and UV radiation. The previously common wooden crates broke down much sooner.

Minimum energy and material consumption

For Johan Kooistra, the challenge of a project always lies in finding the minimum and the maximum. For example, the maximum content, durability, or user-friendliness with a minimum of energy or material consumption. Both are necessary to ensure a minimum CO2 footprint. The ecological footprint of plastic containers is particularly good if a high proportion of recycled material is used. Already since the mid-1980s, Schoeller Allibert has had its mills for crushing end of life crates back into raw material. In addition, new ones are purchased. Pallets leaving the company consist of 100% of this post-industrial recycled material; with other products, the proportion varies, whereby all articles are suitable for manufacturing with recycled material.  

Also, for boxes that come into direct contact with food, there are material types that are approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The customer, of course, has the final word. "Just ten years ago, hardly anyone was interested in the use of recycled raw materials, because it was much easier and cheaper to buy new raw materials. Meanwhile, it goes back and forwards according to what is currently least expensive, and ecological considerations are now added to the purely financial aspect. Concerning PET, for example, many companies have now converted to bottles made from rPET," explains Ludo Gielen.   

In future, regulatory provisions will require increasing proportions of recycled material (at Schoeller Allibert PP and PE), and it will be a challenge to get enough of it. Owing to long-term partnerships, the returnable container specialist has no supply bottlenecks, but currently, the price is 50% higher than just a few months ago. As this is a considerable financial burden for customers, there is also the option of hiring bulk packaging. They are all provided with the so-called SmartLink® application, through which, for example, the location can be checked, and the supply chain can be optimized based on actionable insights.

A heavyweight machine produces
A heavyweight machine produces
the coveted big boxes that are increasingly replacing metal skeleton containers in industry.

New screw design for optimum recycled material processing

To ensure a good material mixture with high proportions of recycled material, the screw should be designed accordingly. The HP screw (high-performance) from KraussMaffei already offers the best conditions – but what is very good can also still be improved. The project team also developed a special version of the drive unit for the customer.

Schoeller Allibert currently operates around 50 machines of the KraussMaffei MX and GX series with clamping force ranging from 6500 to 40,000 kN. Special versions consist of a two-colour machine and systems for internal water pressure injection moulding. In combination with quality moulds, Schoeller Allibert achieves extremely low scrap rates. Two new machines are currently being delivered to the USA. For Johan Kooistra, concerning recycling, the American market still lays behind Europe, because the deposit and logistics systems here are more sophisticated. But recycling will certainly also gain momentum in North America because the advantages are obvious.

Schoeller Allibert currently operates
Schoeller Allibert currently operates
50 machines of the MX and GX series with clamping forces ranging from 6500 to 40,000 kN.

If containers such as beverage crates can last 10 years and then are crushed and melted down four or five times, it means that one's material requirements can be covered for several decades with today's purchase. Single-use products, on the other hand, end up in the landfill. For the major online mail-order companies, which have gained enormously from the corona pandemic, transport containers are in theory even indefinitely durable because they are moved around in the protected interiors of high-bay warehouses. Here, less than 0.1% of the crates break during the estimated service life.

In the next three to five years, Ludo Gielen expects a clear development away from the single-use container to recyclable multi-use plastic packaging: "In the past 25 years, we have prepared the ground, and the next 25 years will see the breakthrough in the circular economy. We are delighted to be able to contribute to creating a better planet for our children."

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Head of Global Expert Sales Packaging and Logistics Industry
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